dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Overdue Fripperies

May 29th, 2020 by dk

Fifth Friday footnotes, follow-ups and far-flung fripperies:

I couldn’t find my last collection of these, which should have occurred at the end of January. For the first time in decades, I forgot to write them. So these may be further flung than usual.

• People have stopped using their voices. I think I understand why. When the TV’s on, why interrupt people who are more articulate and handsome?

• Does only Chicago have expressway lanes that reverse direction midday to accommodate rush hour traffic in both directions? I wonder why.

• Overeating is more fun than eating.

• A friend asked me to go to a protest in his place. I was a stand-in at a sit-in.

• We overvalue excellence and efficiency. We undervalue inclusion and authenticity.

• Conditional apologies drain confessional power. I’m not sorry if you never thought of that. I’m sorry THAT you never thought of that.

• Why hasn’t anyone designed earbuds that double as earrings?

• When you lead a double life, reaching 50 should be considered remarkable.• Reading fiction builds empathy.

• Courage first requires admitting how long things take.

• If five guys walk into a Five Guys, do they get a secret discount on their burgers? They should.

• Make a recipe immediately after it intrigues you, or you probably never will.

• Would you rather be discovered or left alone?

• I’d enjoy evenings more if they didn’t come so late in the day.

• The insufferable know everything except that they are.

• The stock market has become President Trump’s oracle.

• How often is excellence merely conformity?

• A friend asked, “Do you miss precedented times, when we were always in charted territory?”

• Thanks, Maureen Dowd, for this one: “isolationship.”

• During difficult times, the people will always raise their vices.

• Let bygones be bygones, but not while they’re still bygoing.

• I only wish people could clarify whether their mask expresses fear or grace — if it’s on their face primarily for the sake of themselves or for others.

• Self-sufficiency was never more than half true.

• COVID-19 has been a gut check. If you can’t see your gut, you might not need to check.

• Textbook is redundant.

• April had the second weirdest Easter ever. The only one weirder was when that dude refused to shelter-in-place, leaving his tomb.

• Why is the verb “toss” so frequently used when describing a court’s dismissal of a case?

• The actor who played Eddie Haskell died this month. His “Leave It To Beaver” character put a new, sharp edge on the “generation gap.”

• “A state cannot use safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth.” Paul Roberti, chief counsel of the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, actually said that.

• You go to the kitchen not with the pasta you want. You go with the pasta you have.

• Please be authentic with (not identical to) me.

• An occasional “slipper day” can be nice. “Slipper months” — not so much.

• My friend Taft made this observation: “The population of some states is just too dense to avoid COVID-19, especially the sparsely populated ones.”

• If President Trump offered to sell off the postal service, who would outbid Amazon’s Jeff Bezos?

• You know anxiety is in the air when you worry that your croutons may be getting stale.

• Are you getting tired of looking at bookcases behind talking heads, showing us how smart they are?

• How long before we start seeing yard sales for people selling their furniture to buy food?

• Watching a movie, set in San Francisco, I wondered why no tech billionaires except Marc Benioff have built prominent skyscrapers. Every wide shot of the city’s skyline reminded me of his company, Salesforce.

• The greater good is both.

• Would things be better or worse if the invading virus had infected every computer chip instead, shutting down all machine communications?

• Our systems force shock or stasis. All defenses align against incremental change.

• Introverts were social distancing before social distancing was cool.

• How do I reprogram my smoke alarm to replace its “Fire!” alert with “Mmm. Fried food! Maybe a little overdone … but still, yum!”

• We’ve been testing fate for years, so why are we surprised when there’s suddenly a shortage of testing kits?

• America to Coronavirus: “Take my life and liberty, but not my pursuit of happiness.”

• With infections and unemployment skyrocketing, government should consider banning skyrockets.

• Do people fret anymore? (Maybe that’s the problem.)

• How many trips of a lifetime is one allowed in a lifetime? (Asking for a friend)

• I don’t remember the question, but the answer is thicker socks.

• Americans don’t question authority. How many pillows and mattresses in your house still have those annoying “Do Not Remove” tags on them? (Retailers can’t remove them, but you can.)

• Popcorn is a snack that leaves no crumbs.

• Two activities we prefer to describe in the passive voice: haircuts and marriages. Make of this what you will.

• Once chocolate cake was invented, how did any other desserts survive?

• Whenever it’s walls versus barbarians, you know which side will win.

• How much middle of a toothpick is absolutely necessary?

Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at He’s been writing fifth Friday fripperies since 1993.

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Autzen Enhancements Could Be Revolutionary

May 23rd, 2020 by dk

If you happen to live within a mile of Autzen Stadium, you know how loud its sound system can be. Coaches often turn up the volume, replicating a stadium full of passionate fans. It prepares the team for a high-profile game in a hostile environment. That sound system is getting an upgrade.

Autzen will have college football’s largest scoreboard. The 186-by-66-foot video board will have a state-of-the-art sound system, will cost $12.1 million. A second screen will be visible from the parking lot. Tardy tailgaters will be able to watch what they are missing.

Athletic Director Rob Mullens told UO’s finance and facilities committee in March that the privately financed $12.1 million mega-screen was “something that will certainly enhance the fan experience.” That was before the COVID-19 lock-down began.

Nobody knows yet what will happen to the fall sports seasons. Will football be delayed until the virus is under control? Will early games be canceled altogether? Will they be played with a fraction of fans present or with no fans at all?

NCAA initially planned for the spring basketball tournaments to be played in empty arenas. Days later, the tournaments were canceled altogether, leaving fans with March malaise in place of March madness.

That got me thinking about my own ideas about what will certainly enhance the fan experience. That $12 million scoreboard may be coming just in time to have something here that no other stadium experience provides. If we’re going to have the biggest, why not also have the best?

Oregon has an opportunity here to innovate, which has become central to its national and international brand. That mega-screen should be equipped to receive live video from remote locations.

The screen already shows scenes from around the stadium. Everybody does that. It doesn’t require much more sophistication to add a live feed from other locations. The University of Oregon’s Alumni Association has active chapters in dozens of cities. They designate a local bar where Ducks meet to watch each game.

Local fans should see fans congregating all over the world. We’re mastering remote learning. Why not remote cheering?

It would look like the world’s largest Zoom call. Fans making noise together, from bars and event centers all over the globe. That would enhance the fan experience! It might also motivate our players, who may be playing in an empty stadium.

This fall, Oregonians may be allowed to meet only in groups no larger than 25, but 12,276 square feet of screen space leaves plenty of room for a substantial crowd to be seen and heard inside Autzen — and in all the neighborhoods nearby.

That 47-by-26-foot exterior-facing video board could also be used this fall in ways nobody expected. Tailgaters might be allowed on the grounds to enjoy the game as if they were at a drive-in movie, which wouldn’t be so bad.

I’d love to see (and hear) Ducks from across the country and around the world bringing their enthusiasm directly into Autzen Stadium. It’s not done anywhere else.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Pandemic Lessons (Not) Learned

May 22nd, 2020 by dk

I’ve been reading up on the 1918 influenza pandemic, so that you might not have to. You’ve heard that virus called the Spanish Flu, but that might not be correct. You may also have heard that American suffering came in three waves, but you might not know why. The lessons learned have never been more important than they are now.

John M. Barry authored the definitive history book on the matter. “The Great Influenza” traces the virus’s probable origins to the corner of Kansas nearest Oklahoma and Colorado in early 1918. Something else happened at exactly the same time that contributed significantly to the crisis.

Keep in mind that America was at war in 1918 — most of the world was. The United States sold war bonds to finance its involvement in World War I. But that’s not all it was selling. 

President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information, which provided a steady supply of upbeat stories about the battles abroad. Behind the scenes, journalist Arthur Bullard was whispering a dangerous idea to the CPI’s chairman, George Creel: “The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”

Creel had been an investigative journalist for the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. Two of his committee members pioneered public relations. They did not think of themselves as propagandists, but patriots. Truth and falsehood were considered “arbitrary terms.” What mattered most was keeping Americans feeling confident.

The Sedition Act of 1918 followed. Disseminating bad news about the war became punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Newspapers changed. Postmasters could impound any publication that ran afoul of the law.

Government posters and advertisements urged people to report anyone “who spreads pessimistic stories … cries for peace, or belittles our effort to win the war,” according to Barry. Most other nations had similar practices.

Spain never entered World War I. Its newspapers continued to print bad news. The first widely distributed reports of the pandemic came from Spain when King Alfonso XIII became ill in May 1918. The bad news may have come from Spain, but the virus itself probably did not.

Thanks to the Sedition Act, the American public didn’t know exactly what to believe. Our government willfully and diligently lied about the war effort, so why should they be trusted to tell the truth about the virus? Everybody had to make their own calculation about what activities were safe and what precautions were necessary.

Barry put it this way: “People could believe nothing they were being told, so they feared everything, particularly the unknown.”

Does any of this seem familiar? Government-mandated happy talk produced erratic public support for masks, social distancing or other preventative measures. The virus waned in the summer of 1918, but it came back with a vengeance that fall. A third wave came in early 1919 before it finally died out.

The Sedition Act was officially repealed in 1920, but the practice of bolstering public opinion with misinformation never really went away. And now, sadly, the same consequences appear to be revisiting us.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Why Did We Give It All Up So Easily?

May 16th, 2020 by dk

We sat on two park benches, far enough apart to meet all requirements. “Why did we give it all up so easily?” My friend’s query has haunted me for weeks. He’s a college instructor who pays attention to the news and societal trends. There’s a reason he and I have been friends for 25 years.

He understood why the shut-down was necessary, and why government officials used emergency powers to enforce new regulations. But he couldn’t explain why there was so little resistance. Americans are not typically a compliant people, and Oregonians even less so.

Restlessness has become more evident lately, but how much of that has been instigated by talk radio and professional rabble rousers? Even now, the resistance seems overly scripted. It’s a political movement more than an organic fight for each individual’s way of life.

People willingly give up what they didn’t like very much in the first place. But the docility in response to restrictions points to an uncomfortable theory.

Most people don’t like the status quo and they’re happy to see it disrupted. When told they must stop doing most of what they do all day, the nation replied nearly in unison, “OK.” We gave this upheaval a synchronized shrug.

Sharpening the point, most people hate their job. Even those who enjoy their work fear that they could be replaced and resent being told how to do it. This is not accidental. It’s part of some sort of grand design. This is not a conspiracy theory. Nobody is meeting in back rooms devising this. It’s a system built for efficiencies finding its own way.

If you don’t enjoy something, you’ll naturally seek ways to have less of it. If work is seen as necessary but not enjoyable, people will look for ways to cut corners without reducing productivity. It’s an odd sort of worker empowerment, but there’s no better expert for cutting corners than workers themselves, each in their own way. It’s an elegant system.

Best of all, it operates invisibly. Bosses don’t need to give bonuses because the goof-off time between tasks is usually reward enough. Workers don’t even know how much they dislike it all until everything stops. They didn’t tell others they were miserable because they didn’t know.

It wasn’t always so. For most of human history, you found work that you were good at and that your neighbors valued. If you were a candlestick maker, you could walk through the village and measure your worth after dark by illumination through windows. The cobbler might see you outside, knowing that his shoes were keeping your feet dry.

If somebody else wanted to make candles, they would move to another village where people still lived in the dark. Or they chose a different craft that would be valued. Work gave people sustenance in the barter economy, but it also gave each individual a sense of belonging to a larger group.

Work for money is completely different. It’s much more efficient, but not nearly as satisfying. We can buy almost anything with money, but not the genuine esteem of others.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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COVID Fallout is Just Beginning

May 15th, 2020 by dk

I fear we may look back on the last two months as the easy part. We’ve shut down society to avert a medical catastrophe. It seems to have worked, at least here, at least so far. But getting back to what we knew as normal may be impossible.

The socio-economic ripples will amplify over the months and years ahead. Those waves will come crashing over many people, especially the most vulnerable. Without heroic interventions, life in America may become unrecognizable.

Front-line workers will return to their jobs as soon as they’re allowed. When you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, skipping a few is inviting disaster. But businesses are looking to automation to make themselves less vulnerable next time.

National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that 100,000 businesses have closed in the past two months. Bankruptcy courts are bracing for a tsunami. The National Restaurant Association reports that 3 percent of restaurants nationwide have closed already. Uber laid off 3,700 customer service employees last week — on Zoom.

Forty percent of small businesses are owned by Baby Boomers who were approaching their retirement. How many will return with enough stamina and ambition to rebuild their business from a standing restart?

Food prices spiked last month in record fashion, while crops are being plowed under.

The governor has halted evictions for 90 days, but what happens on Day 91? The state has no funding to make up those delinquent rent payments. Some mortgage companies have forbearance policies, but few include outright forgiveness for missed payments. The piper must be paid, eventually.

We saw in 2009 how foreclosures produce more foreclosures. A glut of distressed housing drives home values down. Once a home is worth less than what’s owed, banks scramble to keep borrowers from handing them the keys.

The middle class will not be spared. Now that business owners and managers see how telework functions, many jobs will become expendable. Work travel becomes a luxury. Hotels, airlines and conference centers will suffer for years.

Sixth grade teachers for the next five years will know the socioeconomic status of each child coming into their classroom. Children who had two teleworking parents at home in 2020 might be ready for sixth grade learning. Most other kids will be nearly a year behind. It’s not easy making up for a lost year of learning.

A high school science teacher I know estimates that 15 percent of her students have not logged in for remote learning at all. Another 15 percent are not doing serious schoolwork or are struggling to work from home. Her top performers are stressed that their work may have no rewards. Those disparities will widen as consequences cascade. Graduates will have fewer and less attractive options.

States and cities are on high alert, but emergency funds will eventually run out. Taxes will go up or services will be cut — probably both.

The federal government has been printing and spending money, but that can’t go on forever. Financial markets will eventually respond to the mounting national debt. Inflation may be unavoidable at that point, which will produce its own miseries.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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About Those “Pre-existing Conditions”

May 9th, 2020 by dk

There is still a whole lot we don’t know about this novel coronavirus and the havoc it’s wreaking on the world. But we do know a few important things about COVID-19 that warrant our immediate attention — well, almost immediate. First, let’s review some recent history.

The last time we witnessed rampant deaths from a microscopic foe, it was AIDS. But it wasn’t always AIDS. In 1981, the disease was called GRID — “gay-related immune deficiency.” The Center for Disease Control then called it “the 4H disease,” because it targeted homosexuals, heroin users, hemophiliacs, and Haitians. 

The epidemic was dismissed by large swaths of America as a gay disease. Some saw the devastation as retribution for what they considered unacceptable lifestyle choices. Thankfully, those moral judgements did not hinder the scientific work. 

In September, 1982, CDC settled on the term AIDS — “acquired immune deficiency syndrome.” The precursor to AIDS was not identified until 1983 — Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Once scientists could separate the virus (HIV) from the disease (AIDS), strategies to keep them apart began. Today, an HIV-positive person can lead a long and healthy life.

How can lessons learned in the 1980s help us today? We’re facing a “good news, bad news” scenario. Good news: it didn’t take scientists and medical professionals over two years to begin identifying precursors to COVID-19. The bad news is those precursors are correlated to lifestyle choices that society has not marginalized. AIDS struck “them.” COVID-19 targets “us.”

As of this week, Oregon has suffered 101 deaths attributed to COVID-19. One hundred — all but one — victims had identified pre-existing conditions. Italy’s National Health Institute previously analyzed that nation’s fatalities and determined that less than one percent of its victims had no serious chronic health conditions.

Pre-existing conditions are being exploited by the virus is ways that should terrify us.

Those with lung disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or hypertension are less likely to recover when COVID-19 strikes. Health officials have added old age to that list, but age itself may not be a factor, apart from this list of chronic conditions. More factors may be added to this list, but the point is already clear.

COVID-19 is attacking our lifestyle choices.

Charles Eisenstein summarized our dilemma this way: “Americans, beset by obesity, diabetes, and other chronic ailments, are at least as vulnerable as Italians. Should we blame the virus then (which kills few otherwise healthy people), or shall we blame underlying poor health? … Millions of people in the modern world are in a precarious state of health, just waiting for something that would normally be trivial to send them over the edge.”

Our society’s inequities are being laid bare. Healthy lifestyle choices come more easily for many. It’s tougher when you live in a food desert, playgrounds are not safe, and you need two jobs to pay the rent.

Once scientists understood that HIV causes AIDS, they could chemically block that progression. We don’t have a similar strategy yet. Until we do, COVID-19 will hunt for smokers, drinkers, snackers, hurriers, and worriers.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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What Are You Missing Most? (Let’s Chat)

May 8th, 2020 by dk

What are you missing most as we look ahead to a third month of social distancing and staying at home? I miss the chit-chat of everyday interaction most, especially the unplanned.

I miss bumping into people. That phrase suddenly sounds so wrong! Friends chatting on a sidewalk, cut short because one has to hurry to whatever it was they had planned before the unplanned happened. I even miss the hurrying.

It turns out that discussion is very difficult to digitize. The best model of discussion anywhere happens most weekday mornings at 1 First Street NE, when six men and three women sit in a row and pepper their guests for an hour on some matter they’ve all studied up on.

The United States Supreme Court is holding those sessions this week and next by phone. You can listen in. It’s fascinating and you should make time to do it, but it’s absolutely nothing like being in the room with them. The phone version is scripted. Each justice takes a turn — even Justice Thomas, who normally speaks only once every decade.

Our own paradigm of participatory polemicism, the City Club of Eugene, has been trying to keep community conversations going. They have a YouTube channel that’s worth watching, but that’s all you can do — watch. If the audience murmurs, but no one can hear it, does it make a sound?

A friend and his colleagues are contemplating their annual professional conference without asking people to fly. “It could be much better,” he told me on a Zoom call. “The conference can be quite a bit more inclusive if it’s all done remotely. It certainly will be less expensive for everyone.”

Yes, it will be less expensive, without a conference center, flights and hotel rooms. But will it be as valuable an experience? Conferences are where you meet a friend of a friend, who can help you later in ways you haven’t imagined today. You can stop an attendee who asked a good question, or who went to your alma mater, or whose accent sounds familiar.

How can we replicate such happenstance in the virtual realm? Where does the unplanned happen? How do we engineer surprises? Where will people find the answers to questions they hadn’t thought to ask? Life may not require that, but progress does. If we’re going to make this online version of life work, we’ll have to figure that part out.

No one has more at stake in this than our universities. They’re designed to be hotbeds of happenstance. In a market-driven world, this is what they sell.

Professors and students can teach and attend classes remotely, but what about all the rest? Without a pick-up game of volleyball, what will distract a student heading to the library? What foods will never be tried with no one in the lunch line to impress? Where can students bump into one another if no one is in a hurry?

How do we plan for the unplanned, support serendipity, and create coincidences? Until  we tackle those tasks, we haven’t begun to replace what only our presence can provide. 


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Craft A New Future For Yourself

May 4th, 2020 by dk

If we had a poet or playwright among our world leaders, here’s what she or he might say regarding the COVID-19 pandemic:

This will not go on forever, but it may feel as though it has. It will end on November 1, 2021, or maybe sooner. Plan for how you will use the next year and a half for yourself and to benefit those around you.

Many of us remember our school years. This will be like that. This is the midpoint of your junior year. You’ve done this before. Graduating seemed a long way off, but not so far away that you can’t start planning and dreaming. The day will come when pressures lift and you can get on with your life. Plan for it.

Of course we don’t know the actual date when a COVID-19 vaccine will be developed and distributed. Or when we’ll have effective therapeutic drugs to combat the symptoms and reduce the suffering. Or when herd immunity might be achieved. But 18 months isn’t a bad guess. It may be sooner, as if your academic advisor has discovered you can graduate early.

Anything resembling a defined end date makes the daily toil throughout more bearable. We humans like to count backwards. It’s an abstract skill that has paid great dividends. Use it. Tasks naturally fill the space we allot them, so it’s important to know — but also to feel — that this period of waiting will not last forever.

What could you accomplish in 18 months? Quite a bit, but that’s up to you. Some will learn a new language. Others will organize their spice drawer and update their Christmas card list. You get to decide what you will do, and who you will be during this worldwide intermission. Those decisions will determine what you’ll have done and who you’ll become.

Circumstances are not destiny; character is. Greek philosopher Heraclitus made that assertion 2500 years ago. (I did say this would be like being back in school, didn’t I?) These circumstances are a distraction, and a powerful one. But I can tell you this without equivocation. You will not starve. We’ll see to that.

Other maladies will require substantial self-care. Pay attention. You will feel vulnerable in new ways. If that doesn’t happen to you, recognize your privilege and reach out empathetically to others. 

We can exit this time stronger by imagining how we’d like it to be, and then organizing our energies to make it so. Societies’ rules will change until we reach an end point. Schools, factories, travel and large events won’t continue as we’ve known them.

Our own families lived without those things, just six or eight generations ago. If it had killed them, you wouldn’t be here today. Are you really that different from them? Circumstances are a distraction. Character is destiny.

This will have been a great time to be alive — especially considering the alternative. Take advantage of the slower pace, the quarantined quiet, the unshaped darkness of unknowing. Use the extra space to create the future you desire. And then watch yourself walk into it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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A Closed Open House

May 3rd, 2020 by dk

Many celebratory events, large and small, have been canceled due to COVID-19. Major fundraisers, sporting events, concerts, and awards banquets cannot take place. It begs the question, “Can we learn to celebrate on the smaller scales that will keep us safe?”

John Krasinski and Lin-Manuel Miranda created a Zoom version of “Hamilton” for a girl who had planned to see the touring show in her city to celebrate her ninth birthday. (Look it up on Youtube.) Musicians ask for lyric phrases on Facebook, and then improvise around them that evening. Neighbors are bringing lawn chairs to the edge of their driveway to enjoy evening breezes with neighbors who are doing the same.

One sort of celebration that isn’t allowed right now is an Open House. Nightingale Hosted Shelters had to cancel theirs last weekend. Since they hosted their neighbors for an annual holiday singalong in south Eugene, things have been quite busy for this village of Conestoga Hut pre-homes next to Good Samaritan Society on Hilyard Street.

  • The leaders at Good Samaritan gave them a grant to finish insulating their warming shelter. Having a warm, dry gathering place has made a world of difference.
  • Warming and cooling are both getting easier. A new BBQ was purchased. A propane heater warms water during freezes. A business donated propane. A local restaurant donated a large cooler. Reddy Ice donates cooler ice.
  • Two restaurants are bringing enough food to feed all 16 residents once a week. Half a dozen other restaurants have been asked to do the same. The Burrito Brigade continues to drop off food every weekend.
  • Residents have stepped up their sanitation routines. They added a third portable toilet that is reserved only for guests who are ill. They are renting a mobile hand-washing station and exploring ways to purchase one.
  • Other health precautions have been added. One neighbor made masks for every resident, with a few to spare. Supporters bought no-touch thermometers for the residents and the managers to use.

Camp Managers Nathan Showers and Tracy Joscelyn would have much rather given you this update in person, with some hot chocolate and maybe a surprise musical guest. Any on-site celebration will have to wait, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be invited to share their gratitude. We can celebrate without being all together. We have to.

Musicians have talked about doing a summertime version of their winter singalong. Those plans are currently on hold, or they may have to be done with Zoom or Facebook. The camp has a Facebook page that gets updated frequently, as well as a newsletter that can be sent to those who want to stay connected.

Most residents who had jobs were working in restaurants. Those jobs have disappeared for the time being. The governing board has had a busy winter. There’s one last bit of good news for this group of pre-housing neighbors. Two residents have recently moved into permanent housing. Celebrate with them.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Donations to Nightingale Hosted Shelters can be sent to PO Box 70766, Springfield, OR  97475 or go to

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On the Edge, But Which Side?

May 1st, 2020 by dk

I don’t worry much about Jack (not his real name). A Vietnam War veteran, he’s been to hell and made it back. I worry more about Jill (not her real name). She’s in her late 20s, with as many dreams as she can fit into her very used Volvo.

Jack has been without a home for more than a decade. He has a cell phone, but only for the clock. It might make calls if he paid for more minutes on the prepaid package, but who would he call? Anyone he wants to talk to, he just drops by.

Jack gets a small check from the VA each month, but it goes fast. He picks blackberries and barters them for something he needs more — socks, butane, cooking oil. He borrows a bicycle or talks his way onto a bus if he needs to get someplace. Or he walks.

He’s not uncomfortable asking for help. He’s also good at giving it. He checks in on a few people every day, trading conversation for coffee to get the day started. When he gets hungry, he fishes his secret spot. When he catches more than he can eat, he shares his bounty.

If he needs money, he’ll dig a hole for one person, fill a hole for another. There’s always work to be done and he’s willing to do it. He’ll sometimes score a heated space for a few winter months. Jack gets by. He’s definitely among the 40 percent of Americans who would not be able to pay for an unexpected $400 expense.

The pandemic hasn’t changed much for Jack, except some people don’t chat as easily and it’s easier than ever to get a free bus trip. His foraging and fishing seasons haven’t changed. A dollar goes just about as far. Holes still need digging and filling.

Jill sees holes she never saw before. She wasn’t in that group who doesn’t have $400 to spare, but now she is. Her restaurant job went away more than a month ago. She sheltered in her boyfriend’s tiny apartment, because being alone didn’t seem smart at the time.

I met Jill when she stayed nearby for a weekend away from her circumstances. She wondered out loud when the coronavirus craziness would end. She had plans. If becoming a tattoo artist didn’t work out, she could go back to school. She’d worked hard to repair her credit score, and wishes her boyfriend would do the same.

But now she’s smoking again, cigarettes and pot, depending on the time of day. She knows it’s not good for her, but it’s a familiar comfort that’s within reach. I saw her picking at weeds along my sidewalk. She must have wanted a clearer path than what she was seeing.

Her car was gone one day sooner than she told me she was planning. Maybe she was lonely and returned to her boyfriend early. Or maybe she kept driving, hoping she could outrun the panic she felt on the edges, like weeds creeping over a pathway. I don’t know where she went, but I worried.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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